Notes from the End of Summer


It’s two days before I go back to school which makes me simultaneously happy and also a bit melancholy about the end of summer. It’s that feeling that you’re about to enter a very busy – but wonderful – tunnel and, although there are a few breaks in there, it will take awhile to emerge!

Here’s a list of things I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks – and a note about the blog:

– An article from this past Sunday’s New York Times about libraries as tourist attractions is really good. I always try to visit libraries when we are traveling. They are portals to the community and many of the them are just beautiful places to visit:

– Speaking of visiting libraries, we were in Maine a couple of weeks ago, and I was in a “picture book-perfect” library in Southwest Harbor, near Acadia. The picture at the top of this post is the stained glass panel over the central desk.

We also visited a few bookstores in Maine, including Bella Books in Belfast. They win the “cozy vibe” award:

It’s always fun to see a sign like this in front of a bookstore:

– I just finished reading The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman.

It’s a young adult novel that caught my eye during a visit to New Hampshire where the author lives. The front cover blurb, from Kirkus’ starred review, calls it a “girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century,” a perfect description of this story of two high school seniors trying to figure out what’s next.  This is a thoughtful book about two young women who feel trapped in their small town, but it is truly a “young adult” novel – the concerns are those of young people dealing with class, freedom, and big questions about their lives and relationships. I would recommend The Spaces Between Us for readers ages 15 and over.

– I also read The Revolution of the Moon by the Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri. This was a total impulse buy and read – not on my list of summer (or any other season). The author was familiar to me because of his popular mystery series about Inspector Montalbano, and Camilleri, was more “top of mind” because of his death last month. But truthfully, it was the cover that inspired my purchase:

I kind of enjoyed the abrupt decision to read a book I knew nothing about. The back cover told me that the novel is based on a true story about a Dona Eleonora who ruled Sicily for 27 days in 1677 before she was recalled to Spain. I loved it. drama in the Holy Royal Council, a plan to stage a coup, and some unpleasant reminders of how men thought of women during the 1600s (echoes of which exist today).

And one final note –

WordPress reports that this is my 1000th post.  Crazy, but I trust the WordPress math skills. So off we go: a new school year, new books, new students, and new bookstores to visit as we head toward 2000 posts!

Happy Reading!


Highlights from our Middle School List….

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been featuring some of the titles on Inly’s summer reading list, beginning with picture books for young readers. This week – our middle school students. Books for “tweens” have changed a lot over the past ten years. The books still focus primarily on identity and self-discovery because that’s what kids between the ages of 12 and 14 are figuring out. The difference is that contemporary novels grapple with issues on the front burner far more directly than they did when I was in middle school (or junior high as we called it in Ohio). Today’s young adult books tackle, among other issues: gender identity, social media, climate change, refugees, race, social justice issues, and sexual orientation. Young people have a lot to navigate, but there are lots of good books to pave the way.

Here are five of my favorites on Inly’s middle school list:

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

“…Alicia D. Williams’s stunning debut novel…explores racism within the black community, creating a fully realized family with a history of complex relationships to one another, and to their own skin colors. The suburban school where Genesis finds herself navigating a diverse cast of friends and foes is no less vivid…But the standout voice in this tender and empowering novel—reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, but appropriate for a much younger audience—belongs to Genesis herself, as she discovers a truth that we adults would do well to remember: Growing up isn’t just about taking responsibility for the happiness and well-being of others. It’s also about learning what you can and should fix, and what you cannot. As Genesis discovers, there is no true reinvention without self-acceptance.” (New York Times Book Review)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

“Gansworth, himself an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, explores the boys’ organic relationship with generosity and tenderness and unflinching clarity, sidestepping stereotypes to offer two genuine characters navigating the unlikely intersection of two fully realized worlds…. And although Gansworth manages the weighty themes of racism and poverty with nuance and finesse, at its heart, this is a rare and freehearted portrait of true friendship.” (Booklist, starred review)

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston

Beast Rider is a short book, coming in at 176 quick pages, a good choice for readers toward the younger end of the Y.A. spectrum…Given that the plight of Latinos fleeing to the North is such a big and important subject, it’s impressive how much information Johnston and Fontanot de Rhoads are able to share, so economically: the violence migrants face during their journey to the States, the help from strangers they receive along the way, the danger that can be found at the border, and the challenges that new immigrants face when they’re in the United States. This novel is as sharp as it is brief.” (New York Times Book Review)

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

“Taking on friendships, crushes, cliques, and music culture, Maclear offers an honest, deeply respectful look at what is at the core of belonging and isolation for teenagers. Charlie Noguchi narrates her middle-school existence through the lens of her music teacher’s assignment to “choose a song for this moment in your life and write about it.” She pines for Emile, a quiet aspiring entomologist, and wonders about the mysterious prolonged absence of Luka, a femme boy who sings like an angel and once disturbed kids and adults at school with his unapologetic fabulousness…When Charlie, Emile, Luka, and friends find the courage to express themselves together, their music creates a rainbow. With poetic words and pictures, Maclear and Eggenschwiler create a synesthetic experience that captures all the high and low notes of youth.” (Publishers Weekly)

White Rose by Kip Wilson

“Sophie Scholl was a young German student who wanted to see the end of Hitler and the Nazi regime. She gave her life for that cause. As children, Sophie and her brother Hans were enthusiastic members of Hitler Youth organizations. But as the Nazis’ chokehold increased and the roundups and arrests of dissenters and Jews escalated, they became determined to resist. After conscription into the National Labor Service, Hans, Sophie, and trusted university friends formed the secret White Rose resistance group. Hans began to compose treasonable leaflets, promoting an uprising against Hitler. Sophie helped get the leaflets out to influential people as well as to other university students. Their work attracted the attention of Nazi sympathizers, who informed the Gestapo of suspicious activities—and they were ultimately caught by a university custodian. Intensive interrogation and imprisonment, followed by a sham trial led by a fanatical judge, led to the sentence of death by guillotine. Organized in repeated sections that move forward and backward in time, readers hear Sophie’s thoughts in brief, pointed, free-verse poems in direct, compelling language…..Real events made deeply personal in an intense, bone-chilling reading experience.” (starred review, Kirkus)

School is out for the summer so I’m going to step away from the blog for a few weeks. I have lots of reading to do! And so, apparently, does this baby —

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading: Part Two

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Last week I listed some of the new titles for young children that are on Inly’s summer reading list. This week – middle grade. There are so many critically acclaimed books being published for readers between the ages of 8 and 12.  Here are ten highlights, listed in order from books for kids on the younger side of middle grade to more challenging reads.

Cilla Lee Jenkins (a series) by Susan Tan (I reviewed the second book in this delightful series for School Library Journal.)

“Cilla Lee-Jenkins is back. The spunky protagonist readers first met in Cilla-Lee Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is now writing “a classic” with a focus on family traditions. Cilla, who is half Chinese and half white, is now in the third grade and Gwendolyn, her baby sister whose arrival Cilla was dreading in the first book, is beginning to crawl. Cilla is an observant child, an important quality for an aspiring author. She recognizes and is curious about the differences between her Chinese-American grandparents and her white grandparents, and she wonders about her place in a biracial family. While Cilla is trying to understand how families work, she’s increasingly jealous that her “best best friend,” Colleen, is beginning to share jokes and playdates with another classmate. Cilla loves the traditions she shares with Colleen, but she experiences a few bumps and bruises while learning that it’s possible to remain friends with Colleen while welcoming others to join them. The most important event of Cilla’s third grade year is her Auntie Eva’s upcoming wedding, a celebration that gives Cilla many opportunities to explore traditions, romance, and adventure….Cilla’s year is full of lessons about family and friendship, and Tan successfully gets into the head of an inquisitive and exuberant young girl.”

The newest installment is Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (This was one of the top check-outs in the Inly Library this year. A gentle and sweet story about a boy and a baby donkey. Recommend this one to fans of Charlotte’s Web.)

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome (When I met the author at a conference last month, I told her that Finding Langston reads like a love letter to libraries. Set in 1946, Finding Langston is the story of a young boy who, with his father, moves from Alabama to Chicago where he discovers that, unlike in Alabama, he’s welcome in the public library. The Horn Book review read, in part: “Written in short chapters, this crisply paced book is full of historical details of the Great Migration and the role a historic branch library played in preserving African American literary culture.”)

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (I love this book. It’s fun and fast paced and the perfect summer time read. The story of two brothers who have a new neighbor – Styx Malone – who encourages them to participate in a scheme that doesn’t turn out well!)

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (This is a quiet book, but it sneaks up on you. I find myself thinking about it more than other books I’ve read in the past few months. The story centers on Amelia, a seventh grade girl who wishes she were going away for spring break like other kids in her class, but when she goes to the local art studio and meets Casey, things begin to change.)

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (Kadohata, the author of many excellent books for young readers, won the Newbery Medal for Kira-Kira. Her new novel focuses on twelve-year-old Hanako’s journey back to Japan after WWII.  The Kirkus review reads in part: “Superb characterization and an evocative sense of place elevate this story that is at once specific to the experiences of Japanese-American expatriates and yet echoes those of many others. . . . Full of desperate sadness and tremendous beauty.”)

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby (I reviewed this one for School Library Journal)

“Eleven-year-old Fig craves normalcy. But with a hurricane approaching, both literally and figuratively, Fig will have to navigate her way to calmer waters. She lives with her father, a once-renowned pianist, who now suffers from dramatic mood swings that make it impossible for him to work or for his daughter to connect with him. Although she is more comfortable in the science arena, Fig enrolls in an art class hoping it will shed some light on the way her brilliant but troubled father’s mind works. Through the class, Fig meets three people who guide her to a deeper understanding of herself: a supportive art teacher, a boy who genuinely wants to be Fig’s friend, and Hannah, a high school student on whom Fig develops a crush. It is Fig’s introduction to the works of Vincent van Gogh, though, that inspires her to learn more about mental illness….”

How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons (Set in the mid-1940s, eleven-year-old Ella lives in South Carolina with her grandparents. Her mother lives in Boston where she is pursuing a jazz career. When Ella goes to stay with her mother in Boston, she discovers a very different world.)

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (I reviewed this one too!)

“Eleven-year-old December not only knows everything about birds, she’s convinced she is one. As December, whose mother left her as a young child, moves between a series of foster homes, she’s waiting for the moment when her “wings will finally unfold” and she is strong enough to take flight. But when she arrives at her newest foster home and meets Eleanor, things begin to change. Eleanor has bird feeders and volunteers at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. She is also patient and kind, giving December the space and time she needs to build trust. Among her many acts of gentle support, Eleanor introduces December to Henrietta, a red-tailed hawk who, like December, is recovering from trauma and needs encouragement to fly. Despite her reluctance to hope for a real home, December finds herself wondering if living with Eleanor could be permanent. Of course, that would mean abandoning her dream of flight and December wrestles between her pull skyward and the emotional and tangible comforts of life on the ground. At school, she befriends a trans girl named Cheryllynn. When a group of girls December refers to as “the Vultures” cruelly mock Cheryllynn, December stands by her new friend who is, like December, experiencing transformation. Throughout it all, December holds on tight to the one gift she has from her mother, a book called The Complete Guide to Birds Vol. 1, but painful memories of her mother slowly emerge, allowing December to embrace her rich new life.  A heartbreaking and hopeful story about a young girl who learns the power of kindness and the beauty of belonging.”

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Told in verse, the story of a young girl who leaves Syria for a  new life in America.) Two of the glowing reviews:

“Warga portrays with extraordinary talent the transformation of a family’s life before and after the war began in Syria.… Her free-verse narration cuts straight to the bone… [and] confront[s] the difficult realities of being Muslim and Arab in the U.S. Poetic, immersive, hopeful.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Warga’s middle-grade debut puts its hands around your heart and holds it, ever so gently, so that you’re aware of your own fragility and resilience: just as Jude is while her life changes drastically… Other Words for Home should find its way into every middle-grade reader’s hands.” (ALA Booklist (starred review)

The picture at the top of the post highlights the number of books checked out by our 1st through 3rd grade students this year!

Happy Reading…

Summer Reading Season Begins….

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“The library was two miles away, and walking there with a lot of heavy, already-read books was dull, but coming home was splendid —walking slowly, stopping from time to time on different strange front steps, dipping into the different books.” Edward Eager, Half Magic

Memorial Day Weekend: the official beginning of the summer reading season!  I’ve got a very ambitious stack of books ready to go. Of course, I won’t get through all of them, but I appreciate how aspirational it is.

Inly’s summer reading list has been released, and I’m imagining our students scrolling through it this weekend.  I can’t copy the whole list here, but this week I’ll list ten new titles on the picture book list. New books on the upper elementary and middle school list will be on next week’s post.

Picture Books

Olive and Pekoe In Four Short Walks by Jacky Davis  (“Davis’s understated, just-the-facts text. . .is the perfect foil for Potter’s expressive art. The illustrations capture the ups-and-downs of canine life and friendship with understanding and humor—especially when it comes to Pekoe’s innocent naiveté. The book will touch the hearts and tickle the funny bones of dog-story readers and friendship-story readers alike. Horn Book, starred review)

The Cook and the King by Julia Donaldson  (The king is hungry and wants to hire a cook. Into his life walks Wobbly Bob who isn’t really up to the task. In fact, making fish and chips scares him!  Luckily, the king becomes Wobbly Bob’s collaborator.)

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon (Two bugs find the most perfect peach and have to decide what to do with it. A lovely fable about temptation and conflict resolution.)

The Good Egg by Jory John (a very funny story about the dangers of perfectionism – with lots of fun wordplay!)

Vroom! by Barbara McClintock (“Writing with cadences plucked straight out of Sendak’s playbook, McClintock never wastes a syllable . . . The book doesn’t just put readers in Annie’s shoes. It dares them to find shoes of their own and let their imaginations take the wheel. Max had his wolf suit and Llama Llama his red pajamas; Annie has her racing togs. She fits right in.” Kirkus, starred review)

Hey Water! by Antoinette Portis (a beautiful celebration of water and all of the roles in plays in our lives)

Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (“Now this is how to train a dog! . . . One or two words per page and help from the illustrations make this an accessible easy reader. What, at first, appears to be a customary story of a boy and his dog turns out to be so much more—and so much more fun.” Booklist, starred review)

Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman (a totally silly book about a llama who eats a lot of cake!)

Ruby’s Birds by Mya Thompson (a little girl learns how to bird watch – and then teaches her family)

How to Give Your Cat a Bath by Nicola Winstanley (An “off-screen” narrator gives a little girl five steps to bathe her cat, Mr. Flea. To put it mildly, Mr. Flea has other ideas!)

Mary took the picture at the top of the post.  It is one of my favorite pictures of the year….

Happy Reading and Happy Summer!


Say Something!


Inly’s third graders have something to say….

Based on the author and illustrator Peter Reynolds’ new book, Say Something, the third grade students made posters delivering their messages to the world and shared them with the author during his visit last week.

In anticipation of his visit, they have been preparing since January: learning about picture book illustration, selecting their own Caldecott winners, and designing their posters. It all came together when Peter Reynolds walked in the door, and the kids were able to give him a tour of their artwork.

He also read The Dot, one of the books featured in our beautiful doorway…

During the questions, a student asked Peter how he thought of the name Vashti, the young artist’s name in The Dot.  I had wondered about that too.

Here’s the answer:  he was working on the book that would become The Dot in his bookstore in Dedham (The Blue Bunny), and a young girl asked him what he was doing. Peter told her he was drawing pictures for a book, and then he heard someone call to her – Vashti. It’s a Persian name, one I had not heard before reading The Dot.

Three more pictures from last week….

A few months ago, this third grade boy came into the Library and said he wanted to try reading The Lightning Thief, the first title in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Since then, it seems like he finishes a book every few days. He raced through the Percy Jackson series and rolled right into the Heroes of Olympus.  It’s been so fun to watch him come into the library and ask: “what’s next?”

This note made me laugh. He is so sincere in wanting to let us know that he took a book, but what book?

Finally, a parent sent me this picture of her twins who are at the end of their kindergarten year – and they have discovered chapter books!  When she went in to say goodnight, this is what she saw…

Happy reading!


Required Books, Toddler Books, and My Books


It’s summer reading list season! As always, I began by selecting the required books for each level. This is Inly’s “one book” program – a book to create a starting point when the kids return to school September. This year’s titles are:

Children’s House

The Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan (This gentle story of a watchman who finds a kitten on a construction site is a 2018 picture book standout. As the man continues his rounds, he keeps his eyes open for his new little friend, and of course, they are reunited. What struck me the first time I read Sullivan’s book is how rarely a picture book puts a man in the role of protector and caregiver – not to mention that man must be the only security guard who is at the center of a picture book. This book celebrates work, family, and caring.)

Lower Elementary

Our grade 1-3 teachers are trying something new. I shared some ideas with them, and faced with so many good books, they selected three – and are asking their students to select one (or all three!) to read over the summer. The books are:

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (a 2019 Newbery Honor book)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson (the 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor book)

Night Job by Karen Hesse and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (the recipient of three starred reviews, this book is the story of a bond between a father and his son. The New York Times review read, in part: “Karas’s dusky paneled art gives a feel of enchantment and adventure as the boy sweeps floors, shoots hoops, reads and falls asleep while Dad finishes working. He’s added an extraordinary dignity and tenderness to this picture of working-parent reality and a loving, physically close father-son bond.”)

Upper Elementary

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (A classic – and Newbery winner – that we’ve selected as summer reading before, but the kids and the teachers love it. Applegate’s novel about the friendship between Ivan, a captive gorilla, and Ruby, a baby elephant, is a powerful story about friendship and courage.)

Middle School

New Kid by Jerry Craft (A new graphic novel about a black boy navigating life in two different worlds: an upscale private school where he is one of the few kids of color and his Washington Heights neighborhood)

And the Toddlers…

Our toddler program does not have one book, but rather they receive a list of new books for very young children. I wanted to look beyond the toddler classics like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, as wonderful as they are, and suggest books that were published in the past couple of years.

B is for Baby by Atinuke

And Toddlers!  This story is more than a book about the Letter B.  Look at the illustrations closely to see what happens after the Baby falls into a Basket of Bananas.

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

A celebration of summer’s unique joys: lemonade, fireworks, parades!

Eric Carle’s Book of Many Things by Eric Carle

It’s all in here – food, feelings, things in the ocean and on the farm – with Carle’s signature tissue paper and watercolor art work.

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

A funny book about a blue rhinoceros and rhyming words.

Snakes on a Train by Kathryn Dennis

This train’s passengers – and crew – are snakes.  Bright colors and wonderful word play.

Oink by David Elliot

A pig thinks he is going to have a quiet bath time, but a horse, a sheep, and a donkey have other ideas.

These Colors are Bananas by Jason Fulford

An innovative and interactive approach to colors that will expand your child’s view of the world around them.

Puppy Truck by Brian Pinkney

A little boy wants a puppy, but gets a truck.  That’s okay with Carter – he puts a leash on his truck and they head to the park!

One Is a Pinata by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Count in English and Spanish while looking at colorful seasonal festivals.

How to Give Your Cat a Bath: In Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley

An “off-screen” narrator gives a little girl five steps to bathe her cat, Mr. Flea.  To put it mildly, Mr. Flea has other ideas!

My Reading…

I finished three books this week:

The Omnivores Dilemma: Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan (the book we are currently reading in middle school)

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime (Adapted for Young Readers) by Trevor Noah (We are considering adding the young readers edition of Noah’s best selling memoir to the middle school curriculum so it moved to the top of my stack. I had been interested in reading Noah’s book for awhile so it was a happy assignment that did not disappoint. Noah’s story of growing up in South Africa with a black mother and white father is incredible.)

Green Almonds: Letters from Pakistan by Annaele and Delphine Hermans (Published in France in 2011, this graphic memoir/collaboration is a true story about two sisters: Annaele is in Palestine working for an aid organization while her sister, Delphine, remains at home in Belgium. Annaele’s experience traveling between Palestine and Israel helped me to understand what life is like for people living in occupied territories. It takes a complex situation and makes it real – and even more tragic.)

Currently reading:

The Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

And that picture at the top of the post…..sisters at their first Red Sox game. One of them brought two books along. Good idea – baseball games move slowly!

Spring at Inly….

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Anyone who works at a school – or has children in school – knows what spring means: it’s busy. The calendar shows lots of fun days ahead, but we are buckling our seat belts!

Here’s a look at this past week:

We are preparing for a May visit by Peter Reynolds, the author and illustrator of many beloved children’s picture books, including The Dot, and more recently, The Word Collector and Say Something!  Inspired by The Word Collector, one of our third grade students initiated a project to collect words. We have two stations set up in the Lower Elementary corridor with dictionaries, a thesaurus, and paper and pencils, and the kids are collecting words to decorate the hallway. Our head of school helps them display their favorites:

The third graders continue to focus their work on using their voices to “say something!”  As I posted a few weeks ago, the kids began by learning about the Caldecott Medal and looking at different illustration styles. They also looked at  books that were considered for last year’s award and made their own selections.

Next, we read Say Something! and talked about the project they will share with the author during his upcoming visit. The kids are designing posters saying something to their families, their school, and their country. We talked about the power of one voice by reading this book:

This past Friday, they began drafting their messages. We heard ideas like: I wish we had more pets. I wish my school served pizza every day.  I wish math was easier. It will be interesting to see what they say to their country!

The middle school is engaged in very different work. They are “saying something” about the Holocaust. After reading about and studying WWII and the Holocaust, their culminating project was to design memorials for the hundreds of thousands of people who died in concentration camps. Their projects are thoughtful and moving.

This one was especially interesting to me. It was a response to this student’s reading of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Her “artist’s statement” reads in part: “While deciding how to focus this memorial, Milkweed and Number the Stars came to mind. Both books focus on the children and families affected by the Holocaust….In Number the Stars, the two best friends were separated and one had to leave her life behind….I remembered the necklace and how powerful a symbol it was. This led me to the ideas of having small objects.”

This student’s project focuses on Hitler’s persecution of gay people. “What I decided was a 10 ft by 10 ft fenced-in area with six people in different positions inside of it,” she wrote. “My idea is for the memorial to be made out of stained glass and colored with rainbow stripes, to signify the modern LGBTQIA and pride movements and also have the pink triangle attached them to signify the method used to identify homosexuals at that time.”  She calls her memorial “The Outed.”

And this one is a stairway. The student describes it like this: “The memorial will symbolize the idea of giving up hope. As the Holocaust went on, it became harder for the Jews to keep fighting for their lives. The memorial that I designed is a set of stairs that would gradually become steeper and more uneven, making them harder to climb. As you climb further up, you would get more tired. The stairs are make out of gray granite that is sanded, but not polished. It is stone because the events that happened in the Holocaust are set in stone.”  (side note: that’s my Starbucks cup behind her memorial!)

The best part of working in a school library is connecting a child with the right book. Every time I hear a student at the book return box say “I loved it,” it reminds me how lucky I am to do this work. This week was especially nice: two post-it notes in the return pile:

Finally, the picture at the top of this post. It has nothing to do with Inly. I saw this panel of medallions by Josiah Wedgwood at the Yale Center for British Art a few weeks ago and thought it was beautiful.  Happy Reading…